Live-Blogging the Social Studies Hearing III

by TFN

2:00 – The state board resumed testimony about a half-hour ago. Various state legislators are currently speaking to the board, calling for a delay in final adoption of the standards until teachers and academics experts are able to conduct a formal review of changes made over the last three months.

2:25 – State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, just schooled the state board on its responsibilities under the law. He calls on the board to delay final approval of the standards until Texans are assured those standards are sound.

2:34 – State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, is speaking to the board now. Rep. Turner peeled the paint off the barn in his speech at the Don’t White-Out Our History rally earlier this afternoon outside the Texas Education Agency building.

3:15 – The board is back on the list of those who signed up to testify.

3:56 – We’ve heard from little more than 10 percent of the more than 200 people signed up to testify today. No word yet on whether the board will cut off testimony at a certain time.

4:04 – A University of Texas student is schooling board members about issues like the struggle for equal and civil rights for men and women.

4:33 – Now we’re hearing about the threat of radical Islamism to America. We don’t think many people would disagree that violent radicalism — from any quarter — is a threat to life and liberty. The danger is painting with a broad brush all people simply because of their religion.

5:08 – Prof. Julio Noboa, a social studies professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who served on the high school U.S. history curriculum writing team, is up. He’s very critical of the many changes board members made to the standards his team proposed. In fact, the American history standards have been among the most heavily revised by the board among all social studies classes. Prof. Noboa calls many of the changes a “whitewash” of problems and challenges in American history.

5:30 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar is challenging Prof. Noboa’s contention that the United States is a democracy. America has vastly expanded voting rights, making it far more democratic than in the nation’s early decades, Prof. Noboa says. He notes that Dunbar’s contention that the United States is a republic is too narrow — a republic is simply a nation without a hereditary monarchy and doesn’t truly describe what the United States is today.

5:50 – The board is taking a dinner break until 6:30.

6:39 – They’re back!

7:04 – TFN’s Kathy Miller is supposed to be on CNN’s Campbell Brown show — around right now, actually. Sorry for the late notice.

7:22 – Paul Henley from the Texas State Teachers Association, notes a number of problems with the ill-considered revisions made by board members in January and March. Among them: replacing Santa Barraza in a list of artists in the Texas history standards (because one of her paintings includes exposed breasts) with Tex Avery, an American animator, cartoonist, voice actor and director. Avery, Henley notes, while doing good work overall, was connected to several cartoons that were withheld from syndication by United Artists in 1968 because of perceived racist depictions of characters. No one is suggesting that Tex Avery was a racist. But it’s hard to suggest that someone with a single, non-sexually suggestive painting showing exposed breasts is somehow more problematic than a cartoonist connected with cartoons that were considered racially offensive. Henley is pointing out that the information about Barraza was obtained by a board member doing a Google search at her desk, not scholarly research into the balance and quality of her work as an artist. Replacing Barraza with Avery “was not a thoughtful move,” Henley says. What’s really interesting here is the hostility of far-right board members toward Henley for revealing yet another embarrassing example of how the board does its work.

7:38 – Chairwoman Gail Lowe defends board members from suggestions that they have been revising standards “on the fly.” To the contrary, she argues, board members have done their homework in offering revisions. Really? Were they doing their homework when in January they removed from the third-grade standards the author of the popular children’s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? because they mistakenly thought he was the same Bill Martin who wrote a book about Marxism? The board made that deletion after one of them conducted a simple Internet search for his name. The resulting embarrassment forced the board to reverse the deletion in March. But that’s what happens when politicians revise curriculum standards on the fly instead of consulting with teachers and scholars who know what they’re talking about.

9:23 – The night drags on, with dozens of people still on the list of testifiers.

9:25 – Wow. Board member Lawrence Allen is livid at hearing a testifier launch into a tirade again Islam, charging that Muslims are undermining America and Judeo-Christian values. Allen lights into him. Chairwoman Lowe eventually forces an end to the exchange and moves on to the next testifier.

10:35 – Now we’re told by one testifier that “political correctness” prevents students from bringing Bibles to school, praying or even saying the Pledge of Allegiance because God is mentioned. But none of that is true. Students have every right to bring  their Bibles or other sacred texts to school. They have every right to pray, either by themselves or with others who share their faith. We’re unaware of any public school in Texas in which students don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance.

10:46 – Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller is finally up to speak.

10:47 – Kathy calls for the board to delay final adoption and let real experts review the standards. She gets no questions, as usual. Board members often refuse to engage Kathy at all during her testimony (although they’re usually not shy about criticizing her and TFN during questions to other testifiers).

10:50 – Jonathan Saenz of Liberty Institute/Free Market Foundation, the Texas affiliate of the far-right Focus on the Family, takes up the suggestion that the board consult experts before making further amendments. He suggests his boss, who he describes as an “expert” constitutional lawyer, and several right-wing scholars who testified earlier today. They’ll be available tomorrow, he says. Oh sure. That sounds fair. Sorry, Jonathan, but we have some suggestions for real experts.

10:56 – The hearing is nearing the end. (Many who signed up to testify have left.) So we’re closing up shop for the evening and will continue live-blogging on Thursday. Board members will begin debating amendments to the standards shortly after 9 a.m.

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